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          Volume 11 |Issue 18 | May 04, 2012 |


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Pride and Prejudice

The continuing strike of the teachers' association of BUET, demanding resignation of the Pro VC and VC of the university, is taking a toll on the country's most prestigious institution of engineering education

Sharmin Ahmed

Photo: Amirul Rajiv

On the day he is supposed to take his last exam to complete his BSc in Industrial and Production Engineering (IPE), Naimul (not his real name) stands outside the administrative building of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), forming a human chain with other students urging the teachers to resume their academic activities. Naimul is just one among the 5,000 meritorious students whose careers are being threatened by the latest stalemate on campus.

Since April 7, the BUET teachers' association has been withholding classes for the longest time in its history. Abandoning all academic activities for an indefinite period is an action unprecedented in the country's most illustrious university.

The teacher's association has been staging protests bringing forward 16 distinct allegations against the Vice Chancellor, Professor SM Nazrul Islam and Pro Vice Chancellor, Professor M Habibur Rahman. The association insists this will continue until the VC and Pro VC resigns.

Professor Mujibur Rahman, president of the teachers' association, listing the allegations, says, “We expect good sense to prevail over the appointment of controversial officials, for the sake of the long standing tradition and pride of BUET." However, as the students point out, the pride lies in the institution's tradition of academic excellence, moral standing and neutrality.

Naimul says, “Where is the academic excellence when classes are withheld for what seems to be an administrative issue? And our teachers are part of our pride; how is it morally right to make the students pay for what they are not directly responsible for?”

As much as the students declare that the issue is administrative, the allegations made by the teachers are not as black and white. The teachers assert that ever since Nazrul Islam took over the office in August 2010, he has spearheaded a number of academic and administrative anomalies in BUET.

Among other allegations, he is accused of aiding Mohammed Mokammel Hossain, a Chhatra League leader, in manipulating the latter's examination result, and giving him an unjustified opportunity to drop a course that he had enrolled himself in. Mokammel Hossain applied directly to the VC, who forwarded it to the registrar for action. Meanwhile, the VC, in a similar case, refused a female student of another department, on the grounds that it was against the rules of the system. The VC, in his defence regarding the withdrawal of Mokammel's course, said that it had happened "incidentally" due to a mistake in the computer section.

BUET's premises remain devoid of students indefinitely due to the teachers' association strike.
Photo: Amirul Rajiv

The president of the teachers' association explained that, in order to facilitate his administrative needs or interest, Nazrul Islam promoted Kamal Ahammad, president of BUET Bangabandhu Parishad, to deputy registrar, in violation of the university's hierarchy system. Mujibur Rahman says, “He reconstituted administrative and recruitment committees, selecting junior members, disregarding the tradition of seniority and competence as a general principle.”

In his defence, the VC said, "Kamal Ahammed is an official who should have been promoted earlier; he was promoted in line with 200 other such cases in the past, this cannot be reversed now." Nazrul Islam also dismissed the allegations of restructuring of the administration, whereby several officials were replaced. He said, "The administration desperately needed a change in order to restore a stable position within the system, no irregularity took place during the transition."

Other allegations include teachers appointed based on their political affiliation rather than their academic and professional qualifications. When asked about this, the VC responded: "The University syndicate appoints the teachers, I have no major role in recruiting the teachers."

The teachers' association also demanded the abolition of the position of Pro Vice-Chancellor, stating it has never been in existence since BUET's inception in 1962. Mujibur Rahman adds, "The government appointed Habibur Rahman as the first-ever Pro Vice-Chancellor of the university in 2009, superseding more than fifty senior teachers. This is unfair to other more experienced and deserving candidates, if indeed the post should exist."

Professor Mohammed Zoynul Abedin, former president of the association, informs that they approached the offices of the chancellor (the president) and the prime minister twice during the past two years but received no response to date. Recently, a memorandum demanding the resignation of the Pro VC and VC was submitted to the prime minister, education minister and the Chancellor, but it was also disregarded.

The teachers' association is very dismayed by the state of affairs; they will resume classes only if their demands are met and the circumstances are harming students the most. BUET's new academic year, which was supposed to start in April, might not even start in May. This is frustrating for the new batch of students who have to sit idle before their academic year begins. An incoming student, asking to remain anonymous, says, “We, the students, who have worked so hard to get admission into this prestigious institution are very disappointed. We were hoping that at least this institution will be free of session jams, but this is not the case it seems.”

Nevertheless, the VC firmly states, "The point raised by the association has no real basis. I have been appointed by the Chancellor (president). So, why should I resign because the teachers' association say so?"

Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid conducted separate discussions with the teachers' association, the Pro VC and VC, and requested them to sit together to discuss and come to a compromise. But that has not amounted to much. Nonetheless, he warned the teachers, stating, "The VC may approach the Chancellor (President) about the teachers' refusal to resume classes. On that note, the teachers' association will not be able to refute the charges against them if taken to the court."

A faculty member of BUET, who wishes to remain anonymous, says, "As it seems clear that the Pro VC and VC will not resign, it is very important now that the teachers' association, the pro VC and VC, have a dialogue and come to a consensus immediately. It is not as if the teachers are not embarrassed by the situation that has been created, we do want to go back to taking regular classes."

BUET is on the verge of destroying its hard-earned reputation as an institution that is known to be relatively less affected by politics and corruption. Even when there were cases of unrest in the past, they were not so profound as to literally paralyse the institution for such an indefinite period. However, the allegations brought up cannot be dismissed without investigation. The issue must be dealt with in an efficient and fair manner, without further affecting the academic life of the students who constitute BUET's pride.


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